True Detective Recap: Death Crow

California freeway interchange ramp sunset.
California freeway interchange ramp sunset.

California’s initial 19th-century rush to riches has long since halted, but there’s still gold in them thar hills. Or, in True Detective’s case, the illegal factory sweatshops of downtrodden Vinci. Frank’s no longer even sure there’s much to distinguish money from papier-mâché, and Ray’s got better odds of offing himself than playing ball for a promotion or springing for a vacation with his spicy cocktail waitress. But the mayor (who suddenly spouts soused philosophy, à la Rust Cohle) needs Frank to keep those casino kickbacks coming in. And after Caspere’s murder left Frank double-mortgaged and liquidated (not to mention bereft of the land he was going to develop a rail corridor atop of), he needs Ray to care just enough and help him figure out who burned out Benji’s eyes and blew away his pee-pee.

This leads our senior male counterparts to some dark but familiar places. Frank’s forced to visit a lascivious nightclub and make nice with lowlife, low-level acquaintances like Danny Santos (Pedro Miguel Arce, repping The Strain strigoi), whose heinous grill grins with what’s ostensibly Detective’s mantra thus far: “FUCK YOU.” The encounter at least puts him in front of Agnes (Weronika Rosati), one of the last known ladies to sate Caspere’s kink and see him alive. Her information gets passed on from Frank to Ray, who subsequently finds himself breaking and entering into Caspere’s Hollywood hideaway. It’s a place the police don’t yet know about (and, given that it’s out of Ray’s jurisdiction, he shouldn’t be snooping around), but judging by what appears to be a soundproof wall and the collision of modern décor and decidedly tasteless taxidermy, nothing less than naughty was going down here.

As for Ray’s junior colleague on the case, state patrolman Paul, he’s provided with a similar incentive to make sure their investigation goes perfectly un-smoothly. If everything gets solved and resolved to the State Attorney’s satisfaction, it could keep stoic young Paul off the road, out of blow jobs’ way and working the beat like a real detective. Ya know, something like Ray. Intuitively, Paul stands firm that he’d be just as content on his bike. (Because we know how Paul loves him his bike.) Besides, as he, Ray, Dixon, and Ani/Antigone (I’d go with Anigone as a hybrid, but that just sounds like a disinfectant) confer around facts and figures in their de facto warehouse HQ, we get glimpses that Paul’s got a big head on his shoulders, not merely between his thighs. And regarding that tossed-off homophobic anecdote about “this one fag at the bank,” let’s give him as pass: After meeting his mother (Lolita Davidovich, lipstick smeared much more carelessly than the salt rimming her margarita), it’s pretty clear Paul’s got some psychosexual confusion that’s potentially more at fault for bouts of impotence than anything he endured overseas.

Still, the most scintillating character in “Night Finds You” is SoCal itself. And, for that matter, the expanses of upstate, where we meet Caspere’s oddball shrink, Dr. Pitlor (Rick Springfield!), whose practice apparently also provides a safe haven for plastic-surgery patients. There are still plenty of harshly lit perspectives on the mass of metal and pollutants that pass for city interiors in Vinci, but director Justin Lin and his crew likewise delight in helicopter overheads of midnight freeways and the arid, smoggy atmosphere that envelops the ritzier hills with something sinister. The dark cloud that stayed affixed overhead a few desperate individuals and an isolated missing-persons inquiry is starting to stick to everything for miles like black ink, ready to swallow it all whole with bad vibes. As has been observed about this season (and was often true of how last’s depicted the danger and enticement of coastal Louisiana), the urbania brought to life for True Detective is one that evokes Michael Mann (particularly, in this instance, Manhunter) by taking full advantage of Los Angeles County’s paradoxical glamour and gloom. But two episodes in, Nic Pizzolatto’s California feels most closely in tune with how Paul Verhoeven saw it in Basic Instinct (with the requisite touch of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive madness): lurid and seductive, but a place where it’s easy to get in over your head and go under.

Maybe that makes fictional Vinci the perfect kind of purgatory for a lost soul like Ray, he who utters the show’s tagline in this episode, about how “We get the world we deserve.” He was once “good at being decent,” as his ex-wife Gena (Abigail Spencer, adding to the roll-call of Rectify cast on hand) mourns, but now she sizes him up as simply bad. She tells Ray she’s pursuing full custody of Chad, who gets anxious even thinking about time with his volatile dad. If she has to, she’ll blow the bigger narrative of the series apart and request a paternity test, the results of which could have implications on everyone in search of Caspere’s killer. It’s enough to seemingly stir Ray out of his funk and take those first steps opposite his own personal hell. He opens up to Ani about his pitfalls enough for her, and us, to think he’s ready to pursue the perp with clear and conscientious intentions.

Little does he know, Ani’s only begun to confront and fully reconcile her vices. Among them, as her sister Athena rightly suspected, a psychosexual curiosity imprinted by way of bad parenting that rivals Paul’s discomfort with intimacy. And Frank, well, let’s be honest: He’s still locked somewhere in his father’s basement, hungry and needing to lash out. It shows all over his face as he reluctantly relishes getting his hands dirty in order to start drumming up business and save his hide. He’s genuine about wanting a family but refusing to raise a child until he’s sure he can offer the steady presence he sorely lacked. But first, he’s gonna have to break some heads.

This whole Caspere mess has drawn in four personalities who represent different sides of the same coins, and even if their carpool banter isn’t always crisp (something about robot dicks and flies), it’s worth waiting to see whether they find the same page or tear themselves apart. Hopefully, in the short term, it’s the former. If not, Ray’s on his own contending with one seriously creepy dude with a crow’s mask and a close-range shotgun.

Apart from all that:

  • Let’s assume it was rock salt in that shotgun.
  • I love Ritchie Coster, a.k.a. Mayor Chessani, in this.
  • Frank: Stop saying “my old man.”
  • Frank: Stop saying “papier-mâché.”
  • So, safe to assume Paul’s shoulder scar came from one of his folks burning him with candle wax?
  • Paul’s mom reallllly likes Clint Eastwood.
  • Caspere preferred vintage hi-fis in his main residence, but modern digi-stereos at the boogie-down bungalow. Huh.
  • Could it get any better than Caspere’s shrink reading Audacity of Hope?
  • In contrast, there’s the Vinci mayor’s framed pic of him and W.
  • Between that W. frame and the framed Clint Eastwood head shot in Paul’s mom’s pad, you can really tell a lot about people in TD by the icons kept cannily on display.
  • Love that Ani can spot a New Age quack one geode at a time.
  • Too bad Ani’s childhood was such a bummer. Guerneville otherwise looks lovely.
  • Remember the name Catalyst.
  • So, now we can officially put to rest theories that Vera is Paul’s girlfriend (who is, in fact, Emily, a.k.a. Adria Arjona).
  • Remember the name Gene Slattery.
  • Ray’s got jokes! “I support feminism. Mostly by having body-image issues.”
  • Paul: “Don’t talk about the desert.” Grrrr.
  • Less lines like, “I need to know if any of your girls knew a guy, liked young trim,” please.
  • Those were some graphic porn stills.
  • That Lera Lynn’s a real crowd-pleaser.

This article was written by Kenny Herzog from Vulture and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.